Marisa Anderson – Cloud Corner
Thrill Jockey – 15 June 2018
There is a point on opening track ‘Pulse’, where a perfect balance between tranquil stillness and slightly anxious restlessness is achieved, which feels very much like the underlying message running through this excellent new set from itinerant player Marisa Anderson. It is about a minute and a half in and the underpinning peaceful lower notes of Anderson’s guitar ever so slightly clash with the spikier top end picking to create an almost thunderstorm effect that blows over as the track ebbs to a close. It is a subtle but strong piece of playing and layering that is perfectly in keeping with a musician who settled on the electric guitar mainly so she could play quietly and have it sound loud.
A once restless traveller and still musical sponge, these ten songs are filled with a range of musical styles and techniques that have been arranged (Marisa is her own engineer) and painstakingly crafted to result in a fluid meditation of an album. The African Tuareg style of playing influences ‘Slow Ascent’, which leads on well from ‘Pulse’, also using a method of lulling the listener with a steady foundation while scratchy slightly nervous guitar lines eddy overhead. ‘Surfacing’ is a companion piece to ‘Slow Ascent’, but here an ethereal Wurlitzer line hangs over the guitar lines, which themselves have a little more muscle about them, to create a track that builds a sense of optimism started earlier in the album.
Starkly heartbreaking is ‘Angel’s Rest’, a pleading and sorrowful piece of electric guitar playing, full of space as it ruminates on a favourite trail of Anderson’s that was devastated by fire. The song is beautiful but works even better when dovetailed with the title track, which is an upbeat song with an undulating electric refrain backed sparingly by some sharp percussive acoustic playing. It is unashamedly joyous in parts, but all the same reminds me of William Tyler’s ‘Highway Anxiety’ from his Modern Country album, which could be imagined, or it could be those contemporary world issues Anderson is so aware of creeping in again.
This is arguably her most diverse collection yet, illustrated most notably in the two tracks making up the middle segment of the album. ‘Sun Song’ is a solo requinto jarocho piece, a Mexican instrument strung with four or five nylons and plucked fairly quickly to counter the fast decay of the strings’ sound in the small body. It is a song so simply produced, with the mic brought in close, that the shifts in direction and tempo can be clearly heard to bring something wonderfully different to the party, but somehow in keeping with the energy of the thing as a whole. ‘Lament’ is a piece inspired by the Syrian refugee crisis, which fittingly brings in a slow slide guitar line and introduces haunting keys to complete a track that leaves the reverb behind and instead uses the space around the two instruments as a third, resulting in a pair of tunes using space to celebrate the beautiful simplicity of life in one instance and incredulously questioning the sadness of it in another.
Cloud Corner ends with ‘Lift’, a cyclical piece built using the requinto again along with the charango, a small Andean stringed instrument. Like ‘Sun Song’, it is a close-up piece, but this time there are more ominous notes in the background challenging the innocent acoustic lines but doing little to upset the prettiness of the riff. Interpretations are inevitable on this set, but that is what great ones are about, and Cloud Corner is another example of why Marisa Anderson is one of America’s most interesting and talented guitar players and composers. Like Sarah Louise and Daniel Bachman, she is using the genres she has studied to craft a piece of work that challenges the listener and rewards them further with every listen. Excellent.
Performing Cloud Corner Live:
Photo Credit: Jason Quigley